Study Guide

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Appearance

By Maya Angelou


When I was described by our playmates as being s*** color, he was lauded for his velvet-black skin. His hair fell down in black curls, and my head was covered with black steel wool. And yet he loved me. (4.9)

As if being unattractive weren't enough, Maya's brother is a total stud-to-be. Those words "and yet" show us just how surprised she is that Bailey loves her despite her ugliness. Appearances and love are really mashed together for this girl—why is that? (Oh, and by the way, the kids in her town are mean. Yikes!)

I knew immediately why she had sent me away. She was too beautiful to have children. I had never seen a woman as pretty as she who was called "Mother." (9.15)

Why can't moms be beautiful and motherly? What is Maya implying about motherhood? And how did this idea make its way into her head in the first place?

Then the possibility of being compared with him occurred to me, and I didn't want anyone to see him. (9.2)

You did your homework. Nay, you nailed your homework. You're sure your project is a solid A+. And then Sally comes in and her poster has sponge paint on it. Sponge paint! Suddenly, you feel like you're going to fail. Yeah, that's Maya's life—except that Sally is her dad, and she never thinks she's an A+ to begin with. (Okay, so maybe that's not the best comparison, but we're still reeling about sponge-paint girl in high school!)

They were more alike than she and I, or even he and I. They both had physical beauty and personality, so I figured it figured. (9.15)

Maya feels excluded from family bonding (and arguing) because of her looks. Is this in her head, or is her family contributing to these ideas?

[Uncle Tommy] told me often, "Ritie, don't worry 'cause you ain't pretty. Plenty pretty women I seen digging ditches or worse. You smart. I swear to God, I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind." (10.28)

Uncle Tommy invokes the old it's-what's-on-the-inside-that-counts clause. But, yeah… maybe there would have been a better way to go about it?

Unexpectedly, I resembled him, and when he, Mother and I walked down the street his friends often said, "Clidell, that's sure your daughter. Ain't no way you can deny her." (20.4)

Hmmm… the one person who looks like Maya isn't even related by blood. What do you think: do they really look alike, or is it just the way they interact that makes people see the resemblance? It's like when people ask best friends—or S.O.s…awkward—if they're siblings.

It was a rare compliment in a world of very few such words of praise, so it balanced being touched by the dry fingers. (22.32)

Maya is so desperate for compliments that she doesn't even mind getting pinched by little old ladies.

Under her loose scrutiny I grew more buxom, and my brown skin smoothed and tight-pored, like pancakes fried on an unoiled skillet. (36.7)

Maya's baby is magic. Okay, not literally, but he does fulfill Maya's wishes for love and beauty.